I drove to the hospital to meet up with this sweet little guy’s parents a couple weeks ago in a state of reflection with butterflies in my stomach. I was worried about my ability to shoot well in a dimly lit room and all of the technical aspects that surround a session, but also how this experience would affect me. The sun had nearly set when I arrived, my own kids were settling in for the night, and I walked through the halls with his parents on their way to get their own baby ready for bed. Only their situation was much different. Their bedtime routine involved a cold elevator ride, a short conversation with a night shift nurse about protocol, a fluorescent lit waiting room, scrubbing every inch of their hands and arms with alcohol scented soap, and moving wires and tubes in order to feel their son.
The NICU was packed. Every bed was occupied and then some. We walked through the hallway, moved by the sound of alarms, cries, and chatter from the nurses and other parents there to tuck their own sweet babies in bed. I was greeted with the overwhelming aroma of an aseptic environment. Space was limited. Newland was closest to the door and was surrounded by outdated hospital curtains so I wasn’t able to see the depths of the room but it had a feeling of capacity. It was buzzing. Even at 10:00pm movement never ceased. Monitors and lights hummed and beeped. Parents were in and out. Nurses made their rounds, and Newland got a bath.
He was bathed and weighed. His clothes and sheets were changed. He was read a book, and Molly pumped so he could have his mama’s milk. After a two hour bedtime routine, they checked their NICU cam connection, Molly kissed her son goodnight, and they left the hospital.
The weight of that realization hit me hard. The thought of leaving a child of mine shook me. I left the hospital and sat in my car for half an hour in a state of shock and just feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the health of my children. I asked so many questions that night and learned so many things, but I still cannot wrap my mind around just how exhausting and frustrating and sad and overwhelming being a NICU parent must be. I am honored to have been there.
Here is his story:
“For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a mom. I was the little girl who carried around a baby doll with her everywhere she went; pretending to feed it, change it, and comfort it when it cried. I was the best four-year-old parent I could be.
When I was ten years old, my mother died after she was hit by a car while walking across a road. I was devastated, and I still feel a profound sadness I struggle to live with. I also remember my resolve to be a mom myself. Not just because my mom was the best role model as a parent a child could have, but because I wanted to give my child the moments I knew I would never have.
As I grew up, I fantasized about what life would be like with my baby: the things we would do, the places we would go, the memories we would make. In short, I could not wait to be a mom.
At thirty-three, Dave (my fiance) and I got pregnant. The positive pregnancy stick told me my visions of motherhood were no longer a fantasy. Soon they would be a reality and I would have a chance to do all those things I envisioned. To do those things with my child that my mother never got to.
The pregnancy was not easy. I suffered from a subchorionic hematoma at six weeks. As a result of that, I bled for a whole weekend and mourned the loss of our would-be child by sitting on the couch and eating copious amounts of chocolate chip cookies. As it turns out, it was a more common bump in the road than what we realized and it was our misfortune the ER doctor was not familiar with condition. Our baby was still there.
I had morning sickness most of the first trimester. A harsh bladder infection in the second trimester. And ended the pregnancy with severe preeclampsia which required an emergency c-section at 29 weeks and 6 days.
Enter Newland Andrew McCorkle Russell Hauser.
I envisioned Newland’s entrance into this world being something like this: I would have an epidural and push when the doctors said. Dave would be squeezing my hand as I pushed. After pushing to the point of exhaustion, my son would be wrapped in a blanket and laid on my chest. Dave placing his hand on our son as he kissed me on the forehead and murmured affectionate phrases. They would take Newland away to clean him and swaddle him in a blanket which matched my robe when were reunited. It would be perfect.
The reality was my blood pressure spiked on a Friday afternoon and was no longer manageable. Newland’s heart rate was too low and it was not safe for either of us to continue the pregnancy. The doctors decided I needed a c-section while Dave went to pick me up a Jimmy John’s sandwich for dinner. He returned, sandwich in hand, to a room full of doctors preparing me for surgery.
As it turns out, Dave was holding my hand as the doctors worked diligently behind the curtain to remove Newland from my uterus. Our first glimpse of him was someone holding him up to our left.We had mere seconds of sight of our son before they whisked him away to the NICU to begin medical intervention. I saw him four hours later. Our tiny little baby, a maroonish hue, laying in an isolette, under the light blue glow of bili lights. Six days later, I was able to hold him for the first time.
To say my delivery was not as I envisioned would be a huge understatement. To say being a parent is not as I envisioned would also be a huge understatement. Dave and I are something different. We are NICU parents.
Our son weighed 2 pounds 6.8 ounces when he was born. Our son was born 10 weeks early. Our son has a 5 mm hole in his heart. Our son has spells where he stops breathing and his heart rate dips. Our son’s aorta and pulmonary artery are not positioned correctly. Our son has to have open heart surgery. We are NICU parents.
Being a NICU parent is celebrating the days your baby achieves a milestone most newborns have on their first day of life. Being a NICU parent is being excited when you see your favorite nurse or doctor. Being a NICU parent is feeling exhausted all the time. Being a NICU parent is knowing when your baby takes two steps forward medically, he will inevitably take one step back. Being a NICU parent is feeling the heartache of going home without your baby.
But the most important thing to keep in mind when being a NICU parent is that you are still a parent. In all my years of wanting to be a mom, did I ever envision being a parent would be like this? No.
I wanted Lauren to photograph our story in part to show Newland his time in the hospital which he will not remember, but also in part to show that we are, in fact, Newland’s parents.
We bathe our son. We comfort him when he cries. We change his diaper. We shower him with kisses. We read to him. Above all else, we love him.”